Steps to Handle Difficult Conversations with Employees

As a manager, there will be times when you must have difficult conversations with employees. These discussions might involve poor performance, disagreements with coworkers, violation of company policy, layoffs, or termination.

Handling difficult conversations with employees can be challenging. However, these conversations provide opportunities for professional growth and development. As a result, you must learn how to have these conversations to benefit your team.

Implement these steps to handle difficult conversations with employees.

Prepare for the Conversation

Plan what you want to say when you talk with the employee. For instance, outline the main points and supporting information you want to discuss. Also, gather relevant data, documentation, employee statements, and company policies to back up your statements. Plus, rehearse your words, so you feel more comfortable having a difficult conversation with the employee.

Schedule the Conversation

Let the employee know when you would like to talk with them. Ensure the time is not overly disruptive to the employee’s schedule, such as before a big presentation or meeting. Since the employee may be upset after the difficult conversation, you might want to have it at the end of the day or week.

State the Facts

Begin the conversation with something positive the employee is doing. Then, clearly and directly present the facts about the situation that needs to improve. Include measurable data to support what you have to say. Remain professional throughout the discussion.

Actively Listen

Remain objective as you listen to what the employee has to say. Ask follow-up questions to gather more information. Also, restate what you hear to ensure you understand correctly. Additionally, take notes on what the employee has to say. Respond accordingly.

Create a Plan  

Work with the employee to develop a plan to resolve the issue. Use their input and suggestions to create actionable steps to reach the desired goal. Include a timeline and measurements of success. Ask the employee to sign the document to show they understand and will implement the action plan.

Document the Conversation

Take notes throughout the difficult conversation with the employee. Keeping details of the talk keeps the information organized and factual. You can put a copy of the notes in the employee’s HR file and refer back to it for future discussions.

Follow Up

Schedule a time to talk with the employee about their progress in following the action plan and resolving the issue. Find out whether additional guidance or resources are needed. Be supportive and encouraging while stressing the importance of completing the steps within the timeline and reaching the goal. Include consequences if the goal is not reached.

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